Newport-Mesa teachers union reflects on 50 years of solidarity

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers is marking its 50th anniversary this school year.

The teachers union plans to host a celebration dinner in late spring. Members will also recognize the milestone by attending the California Federation of Teachers convention at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa in March.

Before the federation, Newport-Mesa Unified School District teachers were represented by the Newport-Mesa Education Assn.

In 1967, a group of Corona del Mar High School teachers organized in affiliation with the California Federation of Teachers because they believed the previous association lacked “strong, forceful leadership,” said Jim Rogers, a former teachers union president.

These teachers penned articles about school board meetings, district leadership and teachers’ rights for their Harpoon newsletter out of their former office on Orange Avenue in Costa Mesa.

Former Newport Heights Elementary sixth-grade teacher Bob Kelly joined the union in 1972. He recalled distributing fliers to his colleagues’ mailboxes before work and encouraging them to join their cause.

The N-MFT became the official representative under a three-year contract after it won a majority vote in 1979.

Kelly said they negotiated to adopt the peer assistance review program where a committee of teachers and administrators helped mentor teachers in the late 1990s.

Rogers said they negotiated a 21% increase — the largest ever — in salaries and benefits over a three-year period beginning in 2007.

“We went from the bottom of the tier to the top of the tier in unified school districts,” said Britt Dowdy, president of the teachers union.

The opposing organization continued until its membership waned and ceased to exist. Rogers said they were challenged once but an election never occurred.

Dowdy, who was elected president of the organization in 2016, said his goal as their leader has been to a “rebuild strong, trusting relationship” with senior Newport-Mesa administrators to develop stronger contracts for future negotiations.

Dowdy said their work as a union doesn’t stop at the classroom, explaining that any improvement in the environment for teachers also benefits students.

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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